Editor's Corner

A recent study from Yankee Group and Compete is revealing some fascinating information about how well MVNOs are reaching their intended target audiences. The two companies, which surveyed the online behavior of some 2,000 potential customers, concluded that high-profile MVNOs like Disney Mobile, Amp'd and Helio are reaching the customer segments they planned, but are also appealing to some segments that are unintended. For instance, Disney Mobile is attracting more interest from men than women. Disney was expecting to accomplish just the opposite. Meanwhile, Amp'd doesn't appeal to males ages 18-to-34 at higher rates than it does the general wireless population--despite the MVNO's emphasis on providing the type of content that the demographic is interested in. And Helio has successfully attracted Internet-savvy social networking types, but most of the young males who are interested in the brand tend to only pay about $80 for a new handset while Helio's devices are all priced at $200 or more.

Given these trends, the Yankee Group makes this recommendation: MVNOs may find that their target audience is not their actual audience, and that they need to remain flexible and open to support those customers. But there is a fine line. How much do MVNOs deviate off this razor-sharp focus they are supposed to have on a specific market demographic? The premise is that if an MVNO is well targeted and well run, it's going to reach an audience that other operators can't. MVNOs risk watering down that ability if they start looking to support too many customers outside of their target audience, and they begin looking like the carriers they were trying to differentiate themselves from in the first place. 

At the same time, MVNOs must be flexible enough to understand the desires of their target demographics, even if that means competing with nationwide carriers for customers. For instance, Yankee Group notes that Disney is probably not being competitive enough on the price front, since its target audience is price-sensitive. Its price plans are about 30 percent higher than competing family share plan offerings from nationwide operators. It appears that the Disney brand is not commanding a premium for services.

MVNOs face a tricky prospect. How do they adapt their service and device prices along with content and feature offerings to the changing customer audience without watering down their value proposition? -Lynnette

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